Three Women, pt.3

This is the third and final section of the message I spoke in Lithia Springs not too long ago.  Once again, you can hear the final form of the message here.

THE THIRD WOMAN:  THE CHURCH

Well, I need to finish up by moving on to the third woman, and that’s the Church.  The question I want to hack away at tonight is “What is the purpose of the Church?  Why did God create the Church? What were we put on earth FOR?”  I think the best way to answer that question is to go back to the Garden of Eden to ask “What was Eve put on the earth for?”  We already know the answer to that:  She was put on the Earth to be Adam’s helper.  To help Adam complete the task for which he was created.  And that is the reason the Church was made.  The Church was created to be a part of the work of Christ.  And remember that work doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It doesn’t have to be a word tainted by the fall.  I think the concept of work really needs to be redeemed.

Jesus said, “Just as the Father sent me so now I am sending you.”  Jesus was sent.  He was the first apostle.  He was sent to accomplish the will of his Father.  And he said “I do nothing of my own.  I just do what I see the Father doing.”  Once again, an active relationship with his Father.  Knowing his Father well meant doing the same things his Father did.  And for the Church, I think it’s the same thing.

We often say that the Church is here “for the Lord,” and “the Church is here to know the Lord.”  That’s why we’re put here.  What I’m trying to say tonight is that knowing the Lord involves doing the same things that he does.  It is an active relationship.  Just as Eve wasn’t put on the earth only for companionship—she was here to be his helpmeet, his helper—so the Church was put on the earth to help complete the work of Jesus on the Earth.  She was put here to do the same kinds of things that he does.

But speaking of ourselves, I think we get caught up in a romantic notion of what it means to be the bride of Christ.  When we think of a bride, we think of the wedding day itself.  We think of the build up and the anticipation of the actual ceremony, and of the beauty and radiance of the bride herself.  But there’s something about being one spirit with the Lord (just as Eve was one flesh with Adam) which goes beyond the wedding itself.  The wedding day itself is really just a preparation for the rest of the life that will be shared between the man and the woman.  If they were only coming together for a day, it wouldn’t be that exciting of a celebration.  The meaningfulness of the day itself, and the ceremony, is that you’re celebrating that two people are coming together for life.  It’s the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences, shared purposes, shared tasks.

Incidentally, I feel like I knew my wife pretty well when I got married.  But I also knew that the day we got married would not bring the full extent of how well we would know my each other.  I think I could have told you back then that 13 years later I would know my wife better than I knew her on the first day.  And she can say the same thing about me (for better or for worse!).  She has gotten to know me over time and I have gotten to know her over time, because it takes time to get to know somebody.  It takes living a life together, doing things together, having common aims and purposes like raising children together, or following the Lord and moving to the church together.  All of these are things which brought us to know one another better.  You can’t separate knowing someone well from doing things with that person, and for that person.

We talk a lot about knowing the Lord, and we talk about loving the Lord.  But loving someone isn’t just a feeling you get.  It’s expressed in doing things for them.  That’s why Jesus said “if you love me you will do what I ask.”  Mary loved Jesus.  And because she loved him, anything he asked her to do she would do.  If he had said he was thirsty and asked Mary for a cup of water, I’m sure she would have gotten up and got him a cup of water.  She certainly wouldn’t have said, “But Lord, how can I get up and get a cup of water when the most important thing is to sit here at your feet?”  She would have done anything he asked her to do.  That’s what loving someone is all about.  Sitting at his feet, listening to his word, was ultimately for the purpose of hearing whatever he wanted to say, and sometimes what he has to say is that something needs to be done.  Knowing someone means knowing what they want.   And loving someone means taking care of the things that they want and need.  I cannot say that I know my wife without knowing what she wants.  And I cannot say that I love my wife without actually caring for her needs and doing the things that she needs me to do.

We can say that we know the Lord and that we love the Lord but the best way for that to show is for us to:   1. Know what it is that he wants, and 2. Do the things that he wants.  We have an active relationship with the Lord.  So when we ask what the church is here for, someone answers that “we’re here for the Lord.”  That’s great!  But what does that mean?  What does the Lord want?  If we’re here for him, then what does that look like? What does that mean we do?
Jesus put it really succinctly when he said “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit, and this will glorify our Father in heaven.”  There’s that fruit again.  Do you remember how I said that was going to show up again?  His intention was that his people would bear fruit, and that fruit would bring honor to him.  And we know what that fruit looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, these are all evidences of his presence in us.  He wants to see those evidences brought out.  He is honored and glorified when that happens.

So if we want to say that we are here for the Lord, then we must understand what it is that he’s here for, what he’s after.  He’s after a people that will bear fruit, which is how we bear his image—it’s the same thing.  These fruit of the Spirit are just aspects of who he is.  We’re just bearing his image when we bear his fruit.  Do you also remember that he told us he wanted us to multiply and fill the earth?  Well, multiplication is certainly something the church did in the first century.  The church had a tendency of taking the life that was in them and sharing it with other people in such a way that they, too, would come to have that life inside of them.  It’s a natural function of fruit to nourish others.

Now I know that all of this may be striking you as a lot of self effort somehow.   Maybe it seems legalistic to you to hear that God wants to see things come out of us.  But we shouldn’t be overly reactive to this idea.   I know why we would lean that way.  It’s because the rest of the Christian world out there is obsessed with performance.  So we run the other direction.  We downplay performance, and we downplay results, and we downplay progress in the Christian life because we know the incompetencies and the incapabilities of our own flesh.  But we don’t need to run too far the other way, jumping out of one ditch and into the other.  The Lord really does want to make a difference, make a change in the life of the church.  In the end, there should be some things present in the church that you don’t see in the rest of the world. . When that happens, he is given the glory that the church was put here for.  He is glorified when we bear fruit, and when we multiply.

So I have a couple of observations that I want to make about that.  This is where I get really personal, and really direct.  I don’t think that we as a church have always been good about understanding the goal of what we’re about.  That there is meant to be the fruit of the other realm coming out of ourselves.  On the contrary, I think that we have always worked to be a place where nobody is ever held up to any kind of measuring stick.  We don’t want anyone to feel under the law.  We know the incapabilities of our own flesh.  And so we end up shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, I’ll just never be able to do anything.”  But that’s not really what the Lord is after, is it?  I think that we have cultivated a habit here of saying, “Don’t worry, you’re not any worse off than anyone else…we’re all failures in the Lord and we’re okay with that.  Let’s learn to be okay with who we are.  But years later we never really get beyond that to saying, “Doesn’t the Lord want to move us forward in his grace?”

The Lord doesn’t want to leave us the way we are.  That’s not grace.  That’s not love.  Love wants to see sick people get better.  Love means wanting to see dysfunctional relationships become functional relationships, healthy relationships.  Dysfunctional people become healthy, functioning, balanced, well-adjusted people.  That is part of the evidence of the fruit of his Spirit in us.  His Spirit in us is meant to make a difference, and he does!  But I think we downplay that too much.  I think that we are so afraid of getting back under the law, and feeling bad about ourselves, that we recoil away from any kind of talk of actively following the Lord.  We don’t want to go back under the law again.  We’re like an abused child that recoils away from an outstretched hand.

But there is a goal to which we have been called.  Paul talks about pressing on to lay hold of something that was the reason for his calling.  That implies some kind of a progress.  There is direction; there is trajectory; there is purpose.  There is progress toward a goal, and I think that this is the way we should approach the church and our own lives individually.  There is something that the Lord is after in this group of people.  And it does not involve somehow going in circles.  There is meant to be some kind of progressing toward what he is after.  And it involves bearing fruit of the other realm.  Which, by the way, means putting tangible, physical expression to a life that originates in the other realm.  There are things that are not from this world but they enter into this world.  Call it a kind of incarnation.  God is always about incarnating himself.  That’s a whole other message that we could get into sometime.  But for now, I’ll just briefly state that we often talk about fellowshipping with God outside of time and space, and we talk about God living outside of time and space.  But we cannot forget that he chose to become visible because there was something he wanted to do in this world.  And there is still something he wants to do in us.  He wants to continue becoming visible to the earth.  And that means that he’s not staying outside of time and space.  He wants to get inside of time and space.  So if we are going to know him, then we are not only going to know him outside of time and space; we are going to somehow know him inside of time and space, as well.  But like I said, that’s a whole other message that we could discuss.

But that’s what it means to bear the fruit of the other realm:  putting physical expression to something that is from the spiritual or non physical realm.  He wants us to bear fruit, and he wants us to multiply.  To be completely honest with you, I don’t think I know much about what that looks like in our context.  I’m more convinced of what I don’t know than of what I do.  But I know this:  It means growing.  And I don’t mean that a house church like ours should have a hundred people in it.  But I am beginning to believe that churches should produce other churches, just like families naturally produce other families.  I really don’t know all the ways that this happens; I just know that it’s part of what we’re about.  At some level I imagine that involves both bringing in new people to know the Lord, so that they, too, can bear this fruit.

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